We are nearing the end of our 50-day celebration of Easter. Today’s feast used to be on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter, to coincide with the account of the event in the Acts of the Apostles (in some places it still is). But several years ago, Rome gave dioceses the option to move the feast to the following Sunday. The church felt that this event was so important that it might be better to remember and celebrate the Ascension on the weekend, when more people attend Mass.
At first glance it seems that today is about Jesus’ departure from this world. The first reading tell us that the disciples stood, gazing up into the heavens” after he had been taken from their sight.
The prayers of the day and the music all proclaim great joy. Yet, I doubt that joy was the predominant emotion the Apostles felt at the time. Not long before they had lost their master and friend to death on a cross and had him restored to them with the resurrection. What joy they must have felt as they encountered him, ate with him and listened to him throughout the following days. They had no expectation that they would “lose” him again. Moments before he ascended they were asking him if he was “going to restore the kingdom to Israel” at “this time.” They remained where they were, gazing up into the heavens even after Jesus had disappeared from their sight, probably in shock from what they had just witnessed!
And yet the readings and prayers give us a promise that says this feast is about Christ’s presence among us, not his departure. He is present in a different way then when he walked the earth, but he is present just the same. We encounter four modes of that presence whenever we gather together for Mass.
Christ is present in the assembly of the people. Jesus once told his disciples that “whenever two or more of you gather in my name, there I am with you.” And that is what we do when we come for Mass.
Christ is present in the Presider. The priest acts in Christ’s person; physically does what Jesus would do if he were there to lead our worship.
Jesus is present in the proclamation of the readings, because he is the Word and the center of all Scripture. He especially present in the Gospel which tells the stories and teachings of his life on earth. The Gospel Book is a symbol of Christ.
Christ is present in the bread and wine which is consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer — the Blessed Sacrament.
He is equally present in all four, but experienced by us in different ways throughout the Mass. We don’t need to gaze in the heavens to catch a glimpse of Jesus. He is among us.
Johnston is the director of worship at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Manitowoc.